Text: 1 Corinthians 8: 1-3; Mark 1: 23-26 The Gospel writer Mark’s no-frills biography reports Jesus’ ministry starting in Capernaum, where …when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. impressing and amazing the congregation - except for one. …there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, who disrupted the Sabbath service with his outburst. It is that man’s cry that prompts today’s sermon title: “Listen to the Critics!”
Listen, first to the words that identify that man as a person with “an unclean spirit.” In Jesus’ time the “uncleanness” could be a judgment imposed from the outside, from religious leaders who had embroidered the Ten Commandments with so many sub-definitions- to the count of 613, that most people could not learn then, let alone keep 613! Might that disruptive cry in the synagogue have come from a man, who felt the helplessness of never being able to keep all 613 laws, and, seeing Jesus, of whom it would later be said, knew sin but never sinned,made him feel he was hopelessly “unclean?” Who today feels shackled to that judgment? A judgment imposed from the outside. Or, who is feeling “unclean” because of a self-imposed judgment? An addiction that is diminishing someone’s strength to resist, and robbing a person of any hope of ever being anything but “unclean!”? A judgment imposed from the inside. Listen, to that word “unclean;” identify the source, which for the man, erupted in his disruptive cry.
Then listen and notice the place and time where that cry was heard: in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In the synagogue in the village or town where Jews came together to hear the reading of the Scriptures and a sermon interpreting and applying them to daily life, and raise prayers and praise to God…what we do in this place for worship, our “synagogue” now called “church.” The place.
And the time being on the Sabbath, the one day in seven decreed as a time to remember the creative works of God, a day to be restored to God’s newness, to be made whole, and commit anew to being instruments for God’s healing. And so, Jesus heals on the Sabbath, and His followers’ Sabbath becomes the next day, Sunday – the day of His resurrection, the sign that God’s intention to restore creation is already happening, and is sign of God’s promise of that great Day when every day will be an endless Sabbath. And so, notice the setting and the timing of today’s Gospel reading, in synagogue, on the Sabbath; for us: our church, on Sunday.
Listen to what Jesus said to the man whose cries interrupted the service in the synagogue on the Sabbath: …Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Listen to today’s critics who are echoes of that disruptive voice, raising the same protests to followers of Jesus; Listen for those who then dare to do what Jesus did. Ismael Ruiz-Millán, now Director of the Hispanic House of Studies at Duke Divinity School, tells of meeting a man in the park in Tijuana, Mexico, “I approached (and asked) if he wanted a meal. I introduced myself as a pastor. He screamed at me, “I killed several people just for fun, and if I want to, I can kill you right now in front of all these people!” After what felt like a long pause, I responded like this: “I don’t know why you did all that, but please know that God loves you, and because I have experienced God’s love in my own life, I can tell you that I love you too.” This made him more upset. He started screaming in despair, “No! No, that is not possible. I am a bad person; no one can love me!” “Yes,” I said, “God loves you, and I love you.” Miraculously, the man’s demeanor changed drastically. He held my arms and then started to cry and I asked if I might pray with him, and did he have a specific request? “Pray for my family. I have not seen them in years, and I don’t think I will see them again.” I prayed, and when I finished he left without a word.” Ismael Ruiz-Millán looked around and said, “Despair, hopelessness, anger, and a tangibly oppressive environment are what I experienced when I was there—the power of evil was evident.” And seeing, he ponders, (Adapted) “I wonder if this is what Jesus experiences in Capernaum while He is teaching, astonishing the congregation, this man with an unclean spirit stands in front of him, screaming at Jesus, .“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Adapted from Ismael Ruiz-Millán, Christian Century, Sunday’s Coming 28Jan’18 and December 28, 2017) The critic is the first in Mark’s Gospel to know and name Who Jesus is, “the Holy One, Messiah! The disruptive cry of a man whose “uncleanness” has him trying to make enough noise to drive Jesus away, ` like the man in the park in Tijuana, Mexico, And Jesus shouts back, not at the man, but at whatever it is inside him that is telling him he is “unclean.” Jesus commands, “Be silent, and come out of him!” Listen to the critic’s cry, and, if it is being suppressed by you, or someone you know, welcome it as a time to let whatever it is, OUT and let the calming, pardoning, healing of Christ’s love in. “Yes, God loves you, and I love you.” Pray that in this place, in this worship, both the critic is free to cry out and be heard, and the answer is found by each of us who let Christ be the healing calming presence. Christ, Who turns a repulsive cry into Paul’s confession: (Galatians 2:20) “…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Listen to the critics, like the one in the synagogue. Welcome his cry to the One Whose love is the silencing answer. Listen, receive, confess, share. Be the church, today that has the voice to say, “Yes, God loves you, and I love you.”! Thanks be to God! Amen.
Rev. Dr. Martha B. Kriebel is the pastor of Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ in Collegeville, PA